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The Hydrangea

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My climbing hydrangea has filled out the fence nicely

I love my garden and there are particular favorites:  peonies, astilbes, feathery yarrow…but nothing compares to the hydrangea for me. I have different varieties scattered in my flower beds, and one bed dedicated entirely to hydrangeas. After waiting patiently for the last 5 years, my climbing hydrangea (which has done an incredible job of growing along the fence) FINALLY has a teeny, tiny little blossom on it this year. I almost feel like a new parent! Can’t wait to see it in bloom!

Many people share my love of hydrangeas. I found this really nice article from Georgia Raimondi, in her book “The Passionate Gardener.”

The Hydrangea

Long after the petals of my spring-flowering shrubs have faded, 
my hydrangeas begin to bloom and fill the garden with billowy 
blossoms of sky blue, rosy pink, and creamy white. This old-fashioned
plant with branches laden with voluptuous blossoms graces many summer
gardens where it produces armfuls of flowers. Hydrangeas lend an air of 
gentility to a garden, and their long-blooming flowers also provide
spectacular color throughout all the hot days of summer.

The name hydrangea is derived from the Greek words for water (hydro) and
bowl or vessel (angeion). But my first hydrangea made me think of another
word derived from Greek: chameleon.

A friend in the fashion industry gave me my first hydrangea. She had
selected a specific plant because its glorious color recalled a particu-
larly shocking pink that we had discovered on a trip to Paris. But imagine
my shock next season when my hot pink plant produced blooms of heavenly
blue. After some research I discovered that this striking metamorphosis was
not due to hocus-pocus but to a chemical interaction between the soil and
the plant. Acidic soil encourages the hydrangea to absorb aluminum which
accounts for its blueness. When the soil is more alkaline, aluminum absorb-
tion is prevented, and pink blooms abound. Mopheads -- the type my friend had 
given me -- are the least stable of the hydrangeas and most readily change
color according to the pH of the soil.

Thus enlightened, my shock gave way to delight, and hydrangeas have since 
become a stalwart of my garden. Their luxurious blossoms are quite hardy --
I leave some on the bush through the winter to hold an echo of summer through
the year. The cut flowers respond well to drying, and add texture and richness
to arrangements and wreaths. At Christmas, they make attractive and unex-
pected ornaments on the tree.

There are more than 500 hydrangea cultivars including various climbers and
shrubs with diverse foliage and flowers. With so many elegant choices, you
are sure to find a botanical chameleon of your own to enhance your garden with
its extravagant blooms, air of old-fashioned gentility, and chromatic magic.

Planting Tips

Lush shrubs of macrophylia hydrangea with abundant blooms are easy to
grow.
***Happiest in morning sun but will also flower abundantly in light shade
***Will thrive in almost any well-drained soil.
***To manipulate color, remember that deep blue results from acidic soil
((pH between 4.0 and 5.5) and rich pink from alkaline (7.3 to 7.5). Increase
alkalinity with cautious additions of lime. Increase acidity with peat moss,
aluminum sulfate, or sulfur. (Pee gee hydrangea slowly turn from white to
soft pink to rusty bronze, irrespective of the soil's pH).
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The teeny, tiny little bud that has finally appeared on my climber!

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Cool as a Cucumber

english-versus-regular-cucumbers-2355806-FINAL-5bc8a4eec9e77c0051c08105In September 1997, researchers threw five hundred cucumbers into the Irish Sea to gain information about the tidal currents. The cucumbers were painted five different colors for identification purposes. The reason for the research was to find out why sheep droppings were being washed up on English beaches. Cucumbers were selected for their hydrodynamic similarity to sheep droppings.

Cucumbers were known to the ancient Egyptians, who enjoyed a drink made from fermented cucumbers. The Roman emperor Tiberius also enjoyed cucumbers, which he grew in carts that slaves wheeled around so that the vegetables could catch the sun.

Cucumbers are about 95 percent water. The skin is the most nutritious part. The inside of a cucumber can be as much as 20ºF cooler than the outside temperature.

The word for “cucumber shaped” is “cucumiform,” not to be confused with “cuculliform,” which means “hood shaped.”

The world’s longest cucumber was grown by John Hammond of Clacton-on-Sea. It was 46 inches long. The world record for ‘Vegetable Cutting’ also featured a cucumber: in 1998 Professor Dr S. Ramesh Babu set a record by slicing an 11-inch cucumber into 120,060 pieces in two hours fifty-two minutes twenty-one seconds.

The cucumber is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with squash and different kinds of melon. Cucumbers are high in water and low in calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. They have a mild, refreshing taste and a high water content. There are just 16 calories in a cup of cucumber with its peel (15 without). You will get about 4 percent of your daily potassium, 3 percent of your daily fiber and 4 percent of your daily vitamin C.

Grow your best batch of cucumbers by following some good growing tips: https://www.wideopeneats.com/how-to-grow-cucumbers/

Book Review

A Natural History of Ferns by Robbin C. Moran

Book review by OCMGA member Karen DesJarlais

51K2bUNuAML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading this book and I know what you’re thinking. Too many rainy days, must have had trouble sleeping. But you’re wrong; this book is riveting as plant books go. I think you’ll gain new respect for ferns if you didn’t appreciate the wonders of a spore reproducing plant that dates back 340 million years.

The book’s 33 chapters (anyone of which could be a stand alone) is organized under six major headings: Life Cycle, Classification, Fern Fossils, Adaptations, Geography, and Ferns and People. You’ll be glad to know that the glossary

is clear and will cause you to be a real page turner if you want to enhance your knowledge of ferns or be botanically correct.

Here is the author’s crystallized version of how enriching fern study can be. “Learning the meanings of names of ferns opens a little window that looks out onto pteridology, the study of ferns. Through it you can glimpse people who developed the science, the voyages that brought back to Europe many previously unknown and marvelous species and the ancient cultures and what they believed about plants.”

The book has the best explanation I’ve seen of the advantage of using the Latin binomial for plant reference and ex- plains how the process of naming works. To name a “new” plant with a new Latin name, you need to comply with five requirements prescribed by the International Code of Binomial nomenclature. The code evolved over the years and every six years, an International Botanical Congress revises it.

You don’t need to have a PhD in botany or membership in a scientific society to name a new species. Anyone can do it as long as they present evidence that the plant differs from any previously discovered and as long as they follow the rules. Between 1991 and 1995, about 620 new kinds of ferns were described worldwide, mostly in the tropics.

You’ll enjoy the chapter “At the Movies” as it relates to a movie “A New Leaf’ released in 1971. The plot centers on the naming of a new fern.

We shouldn’t be surprised that ferns could be invasive. One such purple loosestrife like species is the salvinia molesta. It’s capable of doubling its population in size in just two days. This weedy one clogged irrigation ditches, blocked drainage canals and jammed water pumps. In some places, it harbored the human blood of parasite schistosomiasis causing entire villages in the Asian tropics to be abandoned. The story of finding the natural predator for this species is like a CSI.

In contrast, the most economically beneficial and smallest fern in the world is the Azolla. In North America, it grows in the Mississippi River floodplain of northeastern Arkansas. In Southeast Asia, especially China and Vietnam, it’s a rich nitrogen fertilizer for rice paddies. Nitrogen is release as it decomposes. Because of Azolla, the rice grain is richer in protein than if fertilized with chemical fertilizer. You’ll enjoy the cultural and economic discussion surrounding this tiny fern.

Pteridomania is the most engaging chapter under the “Ferns and People” section as well.

If you enjoyed botany at any point in your life, you’ll love this book. If you didn’t, you’ll find the author’s conversational styles slyly teaches you a lot. Yes, there are pictures; several pages of colored plates and lots of enlightening drawings, many of them done by the author.

I have a whole new respect for the Osmunda claytoniana (interrupted fern) that I just got from Wild Ones. It has a longer fossil record than any other fern, extending back 200 million years.

I found my hardcover of A Natural History of Ferns at the Menasha Public Library. It’s still raining (the ferns love it) and my eyes are getting a little heavy but I know it’s not the book!

Quick and Easy Garden Art

by OCMGA Master Gardener and Vice President Tom Wentzel

A garden on the dragonflyHomeless Connection garden walk this year had some truly clever (and cheap) ideas for garden art.   The dragonfly is self-explanatory. Just repurposed painted ceiling fan blades and a few rocks.

The “mushrooms” are made from concrete and a dowel. Pick up a few GLASS cordial glasses and champagne flutes. Fill them with concrete and stick a length of dowel into the concrete. Let it harden overnight then smash the glass.Mushrooms

Fragrant Night Bloomers

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Perfume that doesn’t attract insects would be a horticultural oxymoron: putting out the come-hither for pollinators is a flower’s sole purpose, and perfume is a large part of the mating dance. However, not everyone wants to sit in a garden when the bees and other pollinators are moving around, and you can have a fragrant garden that’s low on bees by using night-blooming plants.

Brugmansia_tree;_closeup_of_white_flower

Brugmansia

 

Choices range from the small, inconspicuous, but mightily perfumed annual known as night-blooming stock (Matthiola bicornis) to the many cultivated varieties of Brugmansia, a tropical tree that can grow to 10 feet or more and has been showing up in nurseries under the name angels’ trumpets. All parts of the brugmansia are highly poisonous, but there’s no denying the plant’s appeal. It’s huge flowers blare tropical sweetness from dusk until almost sunup. White is the most common color and usually the most fragrant, but brugmansia also comes in yellow, orange, peach, and pink. Like Chinese hybiscus, mandevilla, and the many other tropicals sold by nurseries in temperate climates, brugmansias are not frost hardy and must be overwintered indoors.

P1000475_Nicotiana_sylvestris_(Flowering_tobacco)_(Solanaceae)_Plant

Nicotiana Sylvestris

 

If you want to stick to annuals, there are plenty to choose from — nicotiana, for example. You’d never know it from the modern cultivars, which lost fragrance when they were bred to stay open during the day, but old-fashioned flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) has a very strong night perfume, and so does its much taller, architecturally splendid cousin N. sylvestris.

Other candidates include moonflower vines, night-blooming jasmine, evening primrose, and oddball day lilies like ‘Pardon Me,’ which don’t get going until the sun goes down.

Old-fashioned but never out of style: Peonies

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Whenever I see peonies in bloom, I think of my Grandpa. In his garden, he had the most beautiful deep red peonies and, in my garden, I now have two huge, healthy plants that are glorious each year. I’ve also added pink and yellow peonies to my garden and I’m so thrilled that this lovely bloomer continues to be popular.

Common name: Peony

Botanical name: Paeonia; there are more than 30 species, including P. officinalis, P. lactiflora, and P. mollis, and many hubrids and cultivars

Height: up to about 3 feet tall, 3 feet wide

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Bloom time: Mid- to late spring, into early summer

Conditions: Plant peonies in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. The pointed eyes (where shoots emerge) should only be about 2 inches below soil level, with the eyes facing up.

Best features: Peonies are among the easiest perennial plants to grow. They are long-lived, are not much bothered by pests, and tolerate drought. Established peonies can be relied upon to produce dozens of flowers every spring. There are thousands of hybrids and many different flower types, but semidouble and double peonies are the classic blooms. The flowers can be pale or bright pink, magenta, deep red, pure white, rich coral, soft yellow, or bicolored. A good selection of early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties will provide flowers for six weeks. Flowers can be cut on stems up to 24 inches long. Peony foliage is pretty, too, and the plants are a substantial presence in any garden.

Peonies coming up in the spring

Peonies are easy to share: Propagate plants by division. Dig them up in fall, and divide the crown carefully with a sharp knife; each division should have at least one eye, preferably more. You should be able to separate an established plant into at least three divisions. A divided plant will be more vigorous than one that you simply dig and move without dividing.

Be sure to fertilize with aged compost or manure. Peonies are particularly sensitive to fresh

manure — it will severely damage the plant. Peonies like slightly alkaline soil conditions.

I can’t recommend strongly enough these old-fashioned plants for your garden. The blooms are lovely, with a marvelous aroma, and the foliage is beautiful. The plants require almost no care — and don’t knock those ants off the blooms! As explained in a previous post, those little warriors are helping the plant!

I Love, Love, Love Lavender!

With visions of Heathcliff on the moors gathering fragrant bunches of heather and lavender, I’m swept up every time I use one of my lavender-scented soaps or walk through my garden and brush against the fragrant blooms of my lavender plants. I didn’t always have success growing the lavender, though. For a while, I had one as a houseplant until I overwatered it and sadly had to add it to the compost pile. Then, I had a couple in my garden that lived but didn’t thrive until I finally decided to do some research on why I was failing so often with this beloved plant.

Enter ‘The Lavender Lover’s Handbook’, a badly needed and now heavily well-worn gift from my daughter-in-law who knew of my love for the plant. This book, by Sarah Berringer Bader, has been a primary reason for the turn-around of my plants from surviving to thriving.

First of all, though, let’s talk about why you should include lavender in your garden:

  • it’s absolutely beautiful with foliage that ranges from various shades of green through gray-green to silver. The flowers come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white so versatility is huge!
  • the fragrance is incredible and, when dried, the flowers last long into the winter
  • grown in the right spot, very little to no care is needed. As long as the spot has full sun, good drainage, and plenty of room to spread out, you can focus on plants that require your attention. Lavender will take care of itself, thank you very much!
  • lavender attracts a range of pollinators — the good ones that not only pollinate your garden but also eat the pests you don’t want! Watch carefully on a sunny day and you’ll find bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, ladybugs, and praying mantises drawn to this delightful plant.

There are many, many lavender plants from which to choose so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re ordering or buying a plant that will thrive in your growing zone. Because lavender is exceptionally drought tolerant, it’s a great addition any area of your garden where watering is a problem. Consider combining it with other drought-tolerant plants like Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Gallardia grandiflora (blanket flower), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan). The purple / yellow combination of these plants will make a beautiful garden area.

Lavender and roses love growing together as well (see prior blog post here) and makes less work for you! While roses attract aphids, lavender attracts aphid-eating ladybugs. Roses do want more water than lavender, however, so you’ll want to mulch the roses to retain water. The flowers from both lavender and roses can be gathered and dried, but here’s where my skills leave me — utilizing the flowers for teas, soaps, baking, sachets, and crafts. However, with both purple and white lavender in my garden along with some beautiful yellow roses, I’m planning on learning these skills!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman